Signs (2): Wild Things

. 5 min read

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Christ Church, Mountain Top
to Worship, Canticle of Zechariah, Luke 1.68-79
Advent Wreath,
Malachi 3.1-4
Luke 3.1-6
Philippians 1.3-11, selections
Soap (laundry detergent, big container)
prophet Malachi speaks of a coming messenger, who will prepare the way for the
coming of the Lord. He will be “like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s
(launder’s) soap”.
      Clean up your act, you dirty, rotten
people! (soap)
      Burn now, or burn later, you dirty, rotten
sinners! (fire)
is what we call “good news”. Or, is it?
introduces this messenger as John, son of Zechariah – the same Zechariah whose
song we read responsively earlier in the service. The word of the Lord comes to
him in the wilderness, and John is transformed into a voice in the wilderness. When
the word of the Lord comes, he finds his voice.
      Luke describes this in the language of
another prophet, Isaiah, who speaks not only about the voice in the wilderness,
but the transformation of the wilderness. In sci-fi language, we’re talking
“terra-forming”. Mountains brought low, valleys filled, rough places planed,
crooked places straight.
      Sounds like the strange stories we hear of
cities and nations preparing to host the World Cup or the Olympics, the
corruption involved in selecting hosts, the construction projects that are
never used again, the beautiful stadiums for which there are no roads, the
hotels not quite completed, the water way filled with toxic bacteria. Today,
when we “prepare the way”, it gets quite toxic. This is what we call “good
news”. Or, is it?

the text has this language of “wilderness” or, in some translations, “desert”.
It is a reference to wild and untamed spaces, things that are out of control,
do not conform to expectations, chaos intruding into order.
      One of my favorite children’s books is Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice
Sendak. Max put on his wolf costume and goes wild in the house. When his mom
tries to calm him down he growls at her and says, “I’ll eat you up!” So, she
sends him to bed without any supper. A great forest grows in his room, a boat
sails by, and he rides off to the land where the wild things are. They see him
coming and they roar their terrible roars, gnash their terrible teeth, and roll
their terrible eyes … and threaten to eat him up. Until Max tames them with the
magic trick of looking into their eyes without blinking once, and he becomes
the king of all the wild things.
      Wild is the dandelion in the sidewalk and
the ADHD kid in the classroom. It can also be a wonderful night with the one
you love. Perhaps our struggle to recognize the signs of our times, never mind
the signs given us in Scripture, is that we get so mixed up on the meanings, misled
by our predisposition toward judgment, our self-centered perspective on power,
and our unbridled passion for control.
let’s revisit some of these together.
      Clean up your act! If we believe ourselves
to be clean already, to have it all together, we have no interest in hearing
this. If we believe ourselves to be models of purity, we have no interest in
the refiner’s fire. But John was speaking to people like me, people who yell at
their kids, people who obsess over their guilt, people who ignore the needy.
And he tells us that we can be clean. Doesn’t it feel great to be clean? Who
doesn’t enjoy a long shower or a leisurely bath? Enter the water, celebrate the
good news of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
      When my dad was a kid, he hated to get a
bath. His dad, who loved to listen to prize fights on the radio, made it into a
joke: “In one corner is Bud Bohanan, in the other corner is a pail of water.
The two have never met before!” Now that my dad is an adult, and I’m not sure how
old he was when that happened, he actually enjoys a shower. Celebrate the good
news and come to the water.
      Prepare the way! It’s not about changing
the topology of the planet. It is about welcoming God into our world, preparing
the parade route, lining it with banners, making it possible for “all flesh” to
“see the salvation of God”. And that’s ALL flesh, human and other creatures,
people like and people we don’t. We’ve got our part to do in preparing the way.
But this old world needs plenty of fixing and it is only God who is going to
fix it. And, God is coming. Celebrate the good news and put your lawn chair out
for this parade.
sang a wonderful song when his son John was eight days old, upon his circumcision
day. He proclaimed that we “being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might
serve/worship the Lord without fear” (Luke 1.74). How often have you been
paralyzed by fear? It is often our predisposition toward judgment, our
perspective on power, and our passion for control that leads to being paralyzed
by fear. True freedom, and the wildness that comes with it, is found in the
presence of God. Our desperate attempts to flee the presence of God only
demonstrate how incredibly creative we can be at ruining our lives. On the
other hand, when we have made our home in the presence of God, when we know
that we are fully and completely love, we discover that we have nothing to
lose, because we never earned it to begin with. And, people who have nothing to
lose – particularly those whose have come to that place by being profoundly
loved – are the most wild of all.
      There’s a wonderful story in 2 Samuel
(6.14-23) of David dancing before the LORD. His wife greets him with contempt
because he danced “as any vulgar fellow”, behaving well below his station as
king of the nation. David replied that he would gladly make himself more
contemptible than that. David had no shame, because he was “performing for an
audience of One” (Lew Parks and Bruce Birch, Ducking Spears, Dancing Madly, p 116). We may be ashamed to sing in
public, but we’ll sing in the shower. We’ll do all kinds of wild things when
the right audience is present, or absent. It was the presence of God that
brought out the wildness of David. He ate consecrated bread that only the
priests could eat and shared it with his men, he fought giants, he won battles,
he had great friendships – all as a man wild in the presence of God.
      When the word of the Lord comes, John
finds his voice. Have you found yours? So much of our speech is shaped and
defined by our role, our job, our context. We have to speak as the parent, the boss,
the employee, and do not have the liberty to say what we really think. Or, when
we say what we really think it comes out as angry and mean instead of brilliant
and witty. Have you found your authentic word, your unique call? When everyone
calls you a failure, are you able to hear God’s word in you calling you his
child? When folks pressure you to conform, are you able to hear the word of the
Lord and become a voice for wildness?

Conclusion: wrap with Where the Wild Things Are